Alaska Republican Party leaders on Monday voted to oust new party chairwoman Debbie Brown on charges she failed to raise enough money and otherwise fulfill her duties running day-to-day party business. It's the second time in 10 weeks the party chairperson has been booted from office.
As the Republican National Committee convenes this week in Los Angeles, with party honchos debating ways to woo minority voters and expand their base, Alaska Republican Party officials are working to resolve an identity crisis of their own.
The upheaval began a year ago, when a surge of Tea Party supporters and Ron Paul boosters gained partial control of the state party convention, electing a relatively unknown player in Alaska politics, Russ Millette, to replace longtime boss Randy Ruedrich. Brown was elected vice chair.
Fast forward to this week. The door to the Alaska Republican Party headquarters is locked, with a note from Brown warning that no one is allowed inside without her permission. The windows are shuttered. Inside, computers used to conduct the business of Alaska's reigning political party may or may not be missing. Both Brown and her replacement, retired U.S. Army Col. Peter Goldberg, flew to California to represent Alaska as party chairperson at the RNC Spring Meeting.
While Goldberg said he is already pushing new fund-raising efforts to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, he expects Brown to appeal her ouster.
An executive committee of longtime party leaders voted to boot Millette hours before he was to take office on Jan. 31. The group charged him with failing to raise money and other complaints. Millette denied the claims and plans to appeal.
Brown was allowed to stay, assuming the role of chairperson. But party leaders soon made it clear they were looking to replace her too.
Goldberg emailed Brown on March 12, suggesting she resign ahead of the national meetings in California to avoid wasting money on hotels and plane tickets.
In an interview, Goldberg, 64, said he's from Brooklyn, served in the Army at Fort Richardson from 1977 to 1981, and asked to be transferred back to Alaska later in his career.
After retiring in Alaska, Goldberg spent two quiet years as a district vice chairman for the party, he said.
"I am definitely not old guard. Eighteen months ago, Randy Ruedrich didn't know my name," he said.
Goldberg said he supported Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election and was later approached by about a dozen party members to serve as a party official.
Goldberg said he arrived at the party headquarters Thursday morning on Fireweed Lane to find the doors locked.
A sign on the door, posted beneath a Romney bumper sticker, warned "no unauthorized access." Anyone who wanted inside would have to call Brown on her cell phone, the sign read (her voicemail box was full Tuesday).
"I have been told that all of the computers have been removed from the office," Goldberg said.
He said a party attorney has been communicating with Anchorage attorney Wayne Anthony Ross, who has represented Millette and helped Brown defend herself before the executive committee, seeking the return of the computers and a key or keys to the office.
"Nobody wants to get police involved to go get the computers," Goldberg said.
Ross wouldn't say if he had the machines or not.
"I know (Brown) wanted to have complete access to the records, for fear that people might be trying to change things," Ross said.
An open letter to state Republican leaders, dated Sunday, accused establishment Republicans of trying to thwart fairly elected party leaders from taking power.
More than two dozen people who identified themselves as convention delegates, district vice chairmen and national delegates, signed the letter:
"With the recent removal of our elected state chairman, the changing of locks at the Republican Party State Headquarters earlier this week, and the current effort to remove our new State Chairman, we find ourselves in the unfortunate position today of having to acknowledge the unpleasant reality that our party is divided."
Goldberg said the notion that the party is at war with itself is overblown.
"All of these parties really do have the same core sets of values. That we all believe in smaller government. Less taxes," he said.
With a goal of defeating Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, leaders are keen to resurrect the party fund-raising machine. Plus, running the party office requires more than $4,500 a month, Goldberg said.
"In the last week and a half or so, (Ruedrich) personally wrote a check for $3,000 or so, to lend to the party, just to keep us afloat," he said.
The party executive committee met Monday in Anchorage and voted to remove Brown from her post.
Ross, a rejected attorney general nominee of Gov. Sarah Palin, did not attend the meeting but did email Goldberg a six-page letter calling the complaints against Brown "spurious."
He argued that the meeting that led to her ouster was not conducted according to party rules, that party officials sabotaged her ability to raise money by not making her a deputy treasurer under Alaska Public Office Commission guidelines, and that the effort to remove her ignored the will of convention delegates.
Party officials issued a statement Tuesday saying the executive committee found that Brown "could not effectively execute the office of state chair" and that her removal was "in no way an indictment of Mrs. Brown's character, her political views or opinions."
Brown can appeal her removal at a state Central Committee meeting in May.